Committee on Professional Ethics v. Baker
Iowa Supreme Court
492 N.W.2d 695 (1992)
Financial planner Rex Voegtlin presented estate-planning seminars touting the benefits of living trusts as a way to avoid probate, which he claimed took too long and cost too much. Voegtlin sent wealthy individuals newsletters advertising the seminars and teamed up with attorney and bank-trust officer James Miller to present them. Attorney William Baker (defendant) accepted referrals to prepare estate-planning documents for clients Voegtlin landed, provided sample forms for Voegtlin to use, and advised him about his newsletters. But Voegtlin and Miller decided which estate-planning documents clients needed, not Baker. After seminars Voegtlin offered free consultations and information forms. Then, Voegtlin and Miller consulted with potential clients about their financial goals and recommended appropriate trusts. Only after making those decisions did Miller and Voegtlin refer clients to Baker. Voegtlin even provided a supplemental financial-planning letter explicitly stating that he recommended certain estate-planning instruments. Not once did Baker counsel against living trusts that Voegtlin recommended. A year into the arrangement, the Iowa State Bar Association’s ethics commission (plaintiff) published formal opinions finding attorney participation in living-trust programs like Voegtlin’s improper. Baker was bothered that he was the only attorney still receiving Voegtlin’s referrals, but Baker continued, accepting about 100 over two years, and those referred clients paid him about $40,000 in fees. Iowa began investigating Voegtlin for practicing law without a license, and the ethics commission initiated disciplinary proceedings against Baker. The commission recommended publicly reprimanding Baker for aiding another in the unauthorized practice of law, allowing others to influence his professional judgment in a way that created a conflict of interest, and accepting improper referrals. The Iowa Supreme Court considered the commission’s recommendation on how to discipline Baker.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Lavorato, J.)
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